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Monday, December 26, 2011

Best of 2011: Taste

Since reading through the 40 Best Restaurants in St. Louis list and deciding to use it as part of the Best of 2011 challenge, Ryan and I knew we wanted to go to Stone Soup Cottage, named restaurant of the year by St. Louis Magazine. We’d never heard of it before, in part because it’s about 45 minutes outside of St. Louis city. Unfortunately in November when I went to make reservations for December, I saw that they were booked through March (they only have one seating nightly)! Apparently they’ve been named the best restaurant for a reason!

Though we were disappointed, we know we’ll eventually get there, and we instead returned to the list to make a new choice. In the end we settled on Taste, a tiny bar in the Central West End that’s known for having the best mixologist in St. Louis—Ted Kilgore. Although we’ve stopped in for cocktails before, we’d never eaten there, despite hearing good things about their small plates.

Last week we stopped in on a weekday, without a reservation, and were surprised to see how packed it was at 7 pm. Thinking we’d have to move on to Plan C for this month’s challenge, we were pleasantly surprised when they changed a few things around and were able to seat us immediately.
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Given the setting—small, intimate, and dark (very, very dark!), I didn’t feel comfortable whipping out my huge camera when I was practically touching elbows with the patron to my right. Instead, I attempted to take a few iphone pictures which was also nearly impossible, given the darkness. St. Louisans, you’ll just have to head there for yourself to get a glimpse. The space itself is gorgeous—wood ceilings, funky light fixtures, and an impressive-looking bar. A tiny kitchen sits on one side of the place, where a pair of chefs whips up snacks and small plates. (for great pictures of the space, check out the Riverfront Times Slideshow of Taste, here!)

You can’t go to Taste without taking advantage of the cocktail menu and we spent quite some time poring over our options. I ultimately settled on the Mr. S.A.P.P., which isn't listed on the menu but featured rum, pineapple juice, cinnamon, and all sorts of other flavors. Ryan went for the Fallspice, also not on the menu, but a combination of bourbon, orange juice, allspice dram, grapefruit bitters, and more. As you can see, these are complex cocktails--I have yet to order one that wasn't excellent! At $10 a drink, it’s easy to rack up quite a bill here…especially since once you’ve tried one, you’re tempted to try all of Ted’s other creative combinations. Last week we stuck to one each and instead focused on the food.

The menu, which changes nightly, is a collection of snacks (house-made pickles, fried smelts, French fries, etc.), small plates, one or two large plates, and desserts. We stuck to four small plates: the beet, chevre, and pistachio salad, the squash risotto, the pork scrapple topped with a fried egg, and the mussels.

Each plate came out as it was ready, giving us plenty of time to mingle over the different tastes. Now that we’ve eaten at several restaurants in St. Louis that feature small plates, we love the play the comparison game (again, St. Louisans, shoot me an email if you want my thoughts on this!).
We loved the beet salad, but we’ve yet to find a beet and goat cheese salad we don’t like. The squash risotto was good—the Arborio rice was not as soft and creamy as most risotto’s I’ve had, but I loved the spiciness of this dish which was an unexpected surprise. Our pork scrapple had great flavor and you can’t go wrong with something topped with a fried egg! Our mussels arrived last, and though I was pretty full by this time, I couldn’t get enough of the rich broth it was served it. Although we passed on dessert, the lemon custard I saw another couple order came in a tiny mason jar and almost made me reconsider!

Although I still think Taste’s best feature is its cocktails, it definitely features some great menu items—as should be expected, coming from the famed Gerard Craft!

And with that, we’ve completed our Best of 2011 Challenge. I’ll be recapping the entire series and introducing our plans for 2012 on January 1st...come back and check it out!
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